Tag Archives: Expat

Things to Do in Saint Martin with Kids

There is so much to do in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten! Go beyond the beaches and explore some of SXM’s kid-friendly activities. Discover ruins, fly through a rain forest, or feel the whisper of a butterfly’s wings. Make your time on Saint Martin the best family vacation ever!

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The Zoo may not be as large or as varied as animal parks in big cities, but it is the perfect size to see with kids in an afternoon. Learn about endemic animals as well as exotic species.

How to get there: Drive to Pond Road in Philipsburg and go north on the Saltpicker’s Roundabout. Turn left at the end of Pond Island and follow the signs.

Cost: $10 for adults and $5 for children

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The Butterfly Farm is a magical place for kids. Walk through a butterfly enclosure and let the papillons softly land on you. Learn about different types of butterflies and moths.

How to get there: Drive toward Galion Beach on the east side of the island. Take the turnoff to Galion Beach, and the farm is on your right.

Cost: $14 for adults, $7 for children

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Loterie Farm has something for everyone. Located on the grounds of an old sugar plantation, this site is loaded with both history and modern outdoor entertainment. You can take the nature hike, relax by the state-of-the-art pool, or try one of the three zip lines: the kids’ Tarzan zip line, the ropes course zip line, or (for the very adventurous), the extreme course. Keep an eye out– you may see the resident vervet monkeys! The park is closed on Mondays.

How to get there: Go north from Marigot and turn left at the “Pic Paradis” sign. The park is on your right.

Cost: 5 Euros for the hike, 25 Euros for the kids’ zip line, 45 Euros and 65 Euros for the medium and extreme zip lines. Pool chair a towel is 25 Euros up, and is required for pool entrance. The park takes US dollars as well.

Buffalo Wild Wings has a fun kids’ area at the Blue Mall in Cupecoy. I haven’t been there personally, but I hear that it’s a favorite with the expat kids.

How to get there: Blue Mall is located west of Maho in near Cupecoy Beach.

Cost: Price of food

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Seaside Nature Park is a little slice of farmland heaven. You can ride horses on the beach, play on the playground, or feed the animals at the petting zoo. The park also has a playground and a trampoline!

How to get there: From Maho, go through Simpson Bay to Cole BayTurn right just before Daily Extra Supermarket, and take a left at the end of the road (From Philipsburg, turn left when you come down the hill to Cole Bay Go through the one-way street, turn left, and then go right before Daily Extra Supermarket). You have to drive through the GEBE power plant, which seems odd, but you are going the right way!

Cost: $60 for a an hour trail ride on the horses. Petting zoo is $5 per adult and $3 per child. Bags of feed are $1 each.

Feeding the Donkey and Horses in French Cul-de-Sac is a great free activity to do on your way to the beach or Pinel Island.

How to get there: From Marigot, go north until you find the round-a-bout toward Pinel Island in French Cul-de-Sac. Turn left at the school and then follow the road past the school and up the hill to the donkeys and horses.

Cost: Free!

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Carousel is our favorite ice cream store. Not only does this place offer delicious ice cream and cotton candy, it also has a full-sized carousel in the back!

How to get there: Located in Simpson Bay

Cost: $3+ for ice cream. Carousel ride is free with purchase on Wednesdays.

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Sonesta Kids Zone is a great place to drop off your kids while you relax at the pool. The awesome staff will take care of your kids with games, movies, and fun while you get a break.

How to get there: In Maho. you can’t miss it.

Cost: In order to visit the Kid’s Zone, you have to either stay at Sonesta or purchase an all-inclusive day pass, which is about $90/person for adults.

The Movie Theater is perfect for those days when your beach plans got rained out. Tickets are actually cheaper than most U.S. theaters.

How to get there: Located in Simpson Bay

Cost: $7

Free Outdoor Movie on Mondays at Porto Cupecoy is a fun way to end the day. Just be sure to check the exact time, as they often change it, and ask ahead of time for the title and rating of the movie. Sometimes it’s a family movie, and other times it’s an adult movie. You can buy popcorn and ice cream at Rendezvous.

How to get there: Drive west from Maho and Cupecoy or south from Marigot.

Cost: Free!

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Free Kids’ Movie Night at Kim Sha Beach is a good Friday night activity. Adults can also enjoy the food and drink selection at Buccaneer Beach Bar.

How to get there: Coming from the airport, drive through Simpson Bay and turn right after Burger King. Park at Buccaneer Beach Bar.

Cost: Free!

Layla’s Restaurant and Play Ground is one of the few jungle gyms on the island. Enjoy the French Caribbean and let your little monkeys play the day away.

How to get there: Coming from Marigot, go southwest to the “handle” of the island. After Sandyground, you’ll see Layla’s on the right.

Cost: Price of food

Coconut Trees Go Karting is great for older kids and teens. Enjoy some healthy competition and adrenaline!

How to get there: Located in La Savane.

Cost: $15

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Feeding Fish in Simpson Bay Lagoon is always fun! You can feed the big tarpon from the Simpson Bay bridge, or you head over the north side of the Causeway and feed the fish by the sunken sailboat.

How to get there: The bridge is the best place, but you can go almost anywhere!

Cost: Free!

Aquamania Playstation is basically a floating playground! It’s a jungle gym on a boat. All the monkey bars, swings, and slides with none of the bruised and scraped knees.

How to get there: In Simpson Bay, park at the beach lot east of the bridge. Walk south on the beach to Aquamania on Kim Sha Beach.

Cost: $10 and up

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Port Marigot Fish Market and Farmer’s Market is lots of  fun for the whole family. The fish market is a good way to view sea creatures without getting wet. Take your kids around 8 or 9 in the morning to get the best peek at all the fish and lobsters. The open-air farmer’s market is open almost daily to greet visitors fresh off the boat. Find lovely local art, cheap souvenirs, and fresh produce. Oh, and don’t forget to get a fresh coconut with a straw from the coconut man!

How to get there: Located on the waterfront road in Marigot.

Cost: Free!

Fort Louis and Fort Amsterdam are two of Saint Martin’s oldest structures. Fort Louis is an easy hike up a few flight of stairs and offers a stunning view of the surrounding area. Fort Amsterdam is a short walk up a slope. In addition to having a beautiful ocean view, this fort is also the site of a pelican nesting ground. Be sure to keep an eye on your little ones– both forts have a steep drop.

How to get there: Fort Louis is located in Marigot. You can’t miss it. Park in town and walk up, or take the back road to park near the top of the hill. For Amsterdam is just southwest of Philipsburg. Approach Divi Little Bay Resort from Philipsburg (or use the Sonesta to make a u-turn if coming from Cole Bay) and make a left into Divi’s road. Park before the gate and let the guards know where you’re going. Walk to the far end of the resort until you hit the fort.

Cost: Free!

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Beaches are, of course, the most popular family activity on Saint Martin. The best beaches for kids are Friar’s Bay, Pinel Island, Simpson Bay Beach, Indigo Bay, and Galion Beach, Kim Sha Beach, Divi Little Bay Beach.

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A Gem in the Prickliest of Places

My top fears? Finding a dead person in a public restroom, centipedes, and stepping on a sea urchin.

Some say it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Whether or not she coined the saying, I believe that it’s a good one to live by. I don’t think it means that we should always do dangerous or ridiculous things. I think that it means we should slowly widen our comfort zone, one baby step at a time. When we first moved to the Caribbean, I was terrified of sharks. Irrationally so, especially since there has been no shark attack in Sint Maarten for about thirty years. I was shaking during our first snorkel expeditions. Soon, I was able to go further and deeper and enjoy it more. Now, I can happily surf offshore for hours with barely a thought in the back of my mind.

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Sea urchins still plague me, though. Ben got some spines in his feet during a tropical storm, when the urchins were washed onto the beach. My friend Jay got a massive urchin sting from barely brushing up against one while floating in a tide pool. The last thing I want is to be stabbed AND stung at the same time!

 

On Ben’s first day of break from medial school, we decided to explore a few little-known cays off the coast of Le Galion beach. This place is hard to find, but it’s amazing. In the winter, you can watch wales migrate from viewing towers. Year round, you can walk or snorkel to small cays in the shallow water.

Walking through the water to the first couple cays was easy. But the path to the last cay was slightly terrifying. We began to the slow trek through the rocky water, avoiding the little spiky balls of evil that dotted the sandy ocean floor. The water was only about ankle-deep, but the waves breaking on the nearby rock barrier sometimes spilled violently over into the shallow zone, roughening the water and obscuring our view of the rocks, shells, and urchins below. Slowly, we picked our way through the obstacle course. I prayed that I wouldn’t feel a needle-sharp spike shoot through the soft soles of my flip-flops. Why didn’t I wear water shoes?

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About halfway across, I couldn’t find a good place to set my foot. I searched carefully beneath the ripples, trying to find a clear spot. All I could see, for yards around, was the minefield of sea urchins. I could hardly breathe for a moment. My whole body froze. So this is what it means to be frozen with fear, I thought, How silly. I guess I can get out of this the same way I got into it. Still, I had an awful vision of slipping on a mossy rock and landing prone on the urchin-covered rocks. Ben stopped picking his way through the water and looked back at me to make sure I was OK. I looked at him, then back at the water. The red centers of the small black urchins glared at me from between the rocks, like wicked red eyes. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said, “There’s literally nowhere to walk.” Ben waded slowly back to me, watching his steps carefully. “Get on my back,” he said, “I’ll carry you.” He turned, and I jumped, clinging to his neck for dear life. He cautiously moved through the rocks, the thick rubber soles of his shoes protecting him from the smaller spikes.

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Before long, we reached the island, and Ben deposited me on the dry rocks. We had made it! And it was so worth it. The small island offered a gorgeous view of Saint Martin. Waves beat against the rock on one side, and a brilliant blue tide pool calmly beckoned on the other. A magical, lonely, unspoiled place.

 

Often, the places most worth going have a scary path. You have to face your fears and step out into an uncertain place to get to the solid mountaintops and peaceful tide pools of life. But you don’t have to do it alone. We need each other to face our fears and support one another. Don’t live in your comfort zone! Get out and do something that scares you, and don’t be ashamed to take a friend along.

 

 

Driving on the “Friendly” Island

I’m not sure if the crazy driving on Saint Martin contributes to the island’s nickname or if it totally destroys it.

To be honest, I don’t often miss the triple-lane freeways of Phoenix, although there are some days that I’d give anything to be flying at 70 miles per hour on an overpass. Saint Martin has one main single-lane road going all the way around the island. A wandering cow in Cole Bay can cause a man commuting from Philipsburg to be late for dinner. It doesn’t help that the driving culture is generally pretty reckless and spontaneous.

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Fortunately, you never really get over 40 mph on the entire island, so collisions usually aren’t too serious. And they do happen often! The ordeal of waiting a few hours for officials to show up and do paperwork is not worth it in most cases, so people usually dust themselves off and keep going. I’ve seen a motorcyclist collide at an intersection in front of me and go flying over the top of my hood, pick himself up, climb back on his bike, and zoom off on the center lane while the freshly-dented sports car rolled along on its way.

Standstill traffic is normal, too. I have literally put my car in park in the middle of the street, locked it, taken my dog on a short walk, and come back to my car just in time while waiting for the bridge in Simpson Bay to go down.

My drive today was particularly aggravating, so I switched my brain from “American time” to “island time” and sat back to enjoy the entertainment of the crazy roads.

First, I drove through a construction zone in Maho. Traffic on both sides of the road was at a complete standstill as two people traveling opposite directions had stopped to chat. One lady even got out of her car to walk up to the window of the other driver’s car! We all had to wait a couple minutes as they finished their conversation before we could continue on.

Next, I watched as someone in front of me became impatient with the slow traffic, pulled out into the opposite lane, and drove on the wrong side of the road until he could see the source of the jam and slide back into the right lane. I thought I was going to watch someone die of a head-on collision.

A bus driver stopped in the middle of traffic to pick up a woman who was waiting, but not at a bus stop.

After this, someone went halfway through a round-a-bout backwards to turn into a driveway rather than going all the way around.

Then, someone flashed me and zoomed in front of me so they could do a left-hand turn in front of me, although I was already halfway blocking the turn and nobody was behind me.

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Going up a hill, a group of bicyclists were holding up traffic as they slowly pedaled to the top.

At the bottom of the hill, a funeral procession had parked in one of the lanes, totally preventing traffic from going up the hill. A limousine was leading the caravan and has simply parked in front of the cemetery. People in suits were milling around the road as behind them, cars waited at least a quarter mile back. I wanted to roll down my window and suggest to the poor commuters to try a different route home, but I opted instead to turn down my Caribbean jams out of respect for the funeral and leave the drivers to their long wait.

Once in Philipsburg, a bus made an impossible turn through moving traffic as other drivers maneuvered around him. I waved to a little boy I know as he and his mom passed me on the road– walking.

People jumped out into the road to cross it and just assumed we’d all stop for them. And we do.

Everywhere I went, people slowed to wave and call out to each other, bus drivers greeted one another with a honk, and greetings flew from pedestrians to drivers and back.Sonesta Resort

Like I said, I’m not sure if this craziness proves that the island is friendly or if it proves that it’s not.

I’ve just decided to just stay as safe as possible and accept it for what it is. After all, I’m the foreigner here and I need to adapt. Even if that means driving five miles per hour, watching bikers fly past me on the center line, dodging goats, and smiling all the way!

 

 

Spring Break!

The best thing about being a teacher is being a grown-up and STILL getting spring break. I’m not in education anymore, but my friend Ally is, and she decided to spend her spring break on the island with me!

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Those of you who are also expats know just how wonderful it is to hear from friends back home. You also know that it’s a hundred times more wonderful to have them come visit you!

I spent the days she was here showing her all the best parts of the island. If you have a few days on the island and don’t know what activities to choose, these are the things to do.

We managed to hit seven of Saint Martin’s 37 beaches in four days:

Airplanes at Maho Beach, SXM’s best-known tourist attraction.

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We relaxed on Mullet Bay Beach.

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Indigo Bay Beach is beautiful. Kito wasn’t too sure about the waves.

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We decided to be ‘Mericans and get McDonald’s ice cream at Great Bay Beach in Philipsburg.

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Plum Bay Beach had impressive waves the day we went. We tried to get a Little Mermaid-style splash photo…

We also went to Kimsha beach and Long Beach for a few minutes, but didn’t stop to take photos.

Naturally, we had to take advantage of the clear water at Mullet Bay and go snorkeling.

We spent some time in both of the island’s capitols, too.

Philipsburg is the Dutch capitol. Jack Sparrow apparently lives there.

Marigot is the French capitol. We visited Roland Richardson’s art gallery, Fort Louis, an open-air market, and my favorite French bakery, Sarafina’s.

Stacey and I also took her to Fort Amsterdam and Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island.

Of course, the week went far too fast. But it left us with many new friend memories!

No matter how far away you move, some friendships will never feel the distance.

East African Cooking: Chips Mayai

This is the easiest and fastest East African food I’ve found so far.
My sister, who’s a junior at Arizona Christian University, is working on a project on Burundi for her geography class. Burundi is a tiny African nation near Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. It also happens to be the country where my husband, Ben, was born. Of course, she and her project partners interviewed Ben as their expert on Burundi. 

Ben being African: he climbed a tree to get this coconut and opened it with a rock.

She also asked me for a recipe to bring to class, so I sent her directions to make chapati and mandazi. However, those take a long time, so I thought I’d write up a recipe for something a little quicker: chips mayai.

  
Chips mayai is basically a french fry omelette. It’s a popular street food from Tanzania that is also easy to find in surrounding countires. You can make it from scratch, but this is the busy college student version.

You need:

-Frozen french fries

-Eggs

-Oil (palm oil is the most authentic)

Thaw your french fries.

  
Heat a generous amount of oil in a frying pan. Cook fries until hot. 

Beat eggs (eggs and fries should be 2:1 ratio) and add a little milk, salt, and pepper.

  
Pour eggs in pan. Allow to cook over medium-high heat until the bottom is cooked. Flip over. It’s fine if it’s messy once flipped.

  
Cook thouroughly and remove from heat. Serve with ketchup.
 
Happy Burundian!

105 Boats

One hundred five. That’s how many boats I could see from the balcony this morning as contestants from the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta began their race around the island.

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The Regatta is a huge deal for us islanders. It’s the biggest event of the month! Traffic has been backed up for days, and the Cupecoy folk can hardly get to the other side of the island. Earlier this week, Stacey and I tried to get to Philipsburg for our volunteer tutor job, but after almost an hour and only three miles, we gave up and went home. It doesn’t help that the only way from the “arm” of the island to the main part of the island is across one of two bridges, both of which are up for hours a day to let regatta boats in or out of the lagoon.

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Despite the traffic, it’s pretty exciting. Many people from Ben’s school are planning to charter a boat and go watch tomorrow’s big race on the water. I’ll be watching from the cliffs, or maybe even paddle out on my surf board for a bit.

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I caught sight of the race-ready boats this morning while taking the pups to the beach. By the time I got home, the sailboats were full speed ahead, and I had a chance to watch for a while from the balcony. If I didn’t have a lot to get done today, I would have stayed out all morning!

 

 

This boat, Phaedo 3, won this morning’s race by circumnavigating the island in a record-breaking 1 hour, 19 minutes and 59 seconds. When I saw it, I was sure it had a motor. It was flying along! I love this photo–the sun’s reflection makes the boat look like a starship of the future.

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Tomorrow will be another day of wind and water! I can’t wait to spend the afternoon with Ben and friends at the water’s edge.

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“Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility…
Sailing, takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be…
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free…”
~ Christopher Cross

Flying Like Tarzan

I have always thought that being high above the ground is one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world. I was the kid who climbed up so high in the trees that the branches were almost too thin to hold me. One of my top bucket list items is to jump out of an airplane.

Naturally, when we found out that there is an epic zip-line on our island, I was excited to try it out! Both Ben and I had been waiting all semester for a chance to try it out. We finally went with my family when they came to visit over Christmas. IMG_2882

The scariest thing about the zipline is the amount of freedom you get. There’s a quick training at the beginning and people along the way to make sure you know what you’re doing, but you get to strap and unstrap your own harness to the  cables and go as fast as you want. In the U.S., they make you sign your life away and still have extra safety straps and all sorts of things to make sure you don’t stub your toe and sue them. Here, you can’t really sue anyone. So you get the extra freedom and less assurance of a pain-free experience.

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I’ll take the freedom any day.

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That’s one thing I love about Saint Martin: fewer guardrails. You can climb all over Fort Amsterdam and practically hang off the cliff, if you want to. They don’t care if you touch the 300-year-old walls and they assume you’ll be smart enough to not walk off the edge.

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It adds a little more adventure to life.

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Eight Things TCKs Want from Their Friends

Do you have a friend who grew up overseas in an expat family? Have you ever wondered how you can better connect with them? Often, Third Culture Kids can be difficult to get close to. They’ve had drastically different experiences than people who grew up in their home culture. They get asked the same questions a thousand times and have developed rote answers. They don’t expect most people to understand their perspective and experience, so they avoid the frustration and don’t often try to explain it. Instead of asking the same old questions, try this instead.

  1. Ask them about their life journey, not where they’re from. And be interested in the answer. Don’t ask where they’re from and expect a single answer. They don’t have an answer to this question! This week, someone asked this question to my husband, Ben, who is a TCK. His answer? “That’s a good question.” Ben will usually answer this question based on the person’s apparent interest level. To casual inquirers, he says “Phoenix,” which is where we lived in the U.S. To people he’ll see again, he usually tells them he grew up in Africa. To people who really seem interested, he will explain that he was born in Burundi, grew up in Tanzania, went to high school in Kenya, and lived in Phoenix for college.

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    Ben and his friends in Tanzania
  2. Ask thoughtful questions. I wonder how many times TCKs have been asked if they rode elephants to school. Or if they speak African. Or if they had a pet lion. Or if they know someone’s cousins friend’s sister, who lives somewhere on the same continent. Nothing will shut down a conversation like a thoughtless question. Instead, ask a meaningful question about the TCKs life abroad: Where did you go for family vacation? What was your favorite sport when you were a kid? What did you do in your free time?

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    Stevie at the source of the Nile
  3. Accept their life stories. When you’re sharing stories about childhood pets, and your TCK friend starts talking about the pet monkey or monitor lizard, just listen. Don’t make a snide remark about being shown up by your friend’s story. Don’t suggest that they’re bragging. They might be, but probably not. Remember that all they have are stories about cross-cultural life. While your normal was a suburban home, two cats, a dog, and a basketball hoop in the driveway, their normal was a cinder-block one-bedroom, a parrot and a herd of goats, and bilingual soccer games with a plastic-bag ball in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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    Lizzie feeding a giraffe
  4. Be patient with cultural nuances. TCKs have grown up with a variety of cultural expectations, and although they’ve become adept at being cultural chameleons, they don’t always know exactly what expectation belongs where. That funny pronunciation, the way they use their fork, the avoidance of eye contact with the opposite sex, the different concept of time… all of that can be attributed to culture. Don’t make fun of it or act like it’s stupid. Roll with it. Or, if you feel it should be corrected and you’re in a position to do so, explain it with respect.

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    Zach on safari
  5. Make them your most trusted news source. TCKs get annoyed by Western media’s botched coverage of issues in their adopted countries. They get even more annoyed by people who trust the media more than their own experiences. Listen to your TCK friend explain the realities of their world, and believe them. You could never understand the issues better than they do simply by watching TV and reading a few articles.

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    Ruthie and a Burundian drum
  6. Let them teach you to think globally. Culture is so pervasive that we often fail to recognize our own cultural tendencies. Be open minded to the global perspective of your TCK friend. At times, he or she will challenge your Western attitudes, philosophies, and perspectives.

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    Crossing the river
  7. Recognize that they have deeper experiences than you do. Your TCK friend is likely multilingual, has lived in three or more cultures, and has seen things you’ve only ever heard of. Bilingualism means they can communicate with more people, and with a greater framework for thought. Multiculturalism means that they have a more well-rounded view of the world. More varied experiences means they’ve seen much of the world, experienced social studies in real life, and likely have gone through some sort of trauma that you cannot identify with.

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    Maiden voyage on Lake Tanganyika
  8. Be the friend that sticks around. TCKs are familiar with good-byes. They’re used to people coming in and out of their lives, and they certainly don’t believe you when you say you’ll stay in touch. People rarely do. Be the friend who follows through. Write letters. Ask how they’re doing. Set up Skype dates.
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    Ben’s zebra selfie

    Third culture kids, did I get it right? What else are you looking for in friendships?

Grocery Shopping in French

“Ground beef. Like, beef– cow meat– but it’s all ground up in little bits.” I did my best unofficial international sign language to accompany my explanation.

“Ah! Bœuf haché?” The grocery store employee led me to the freezer and pointed at the package of meat, eyebrows raised. “This?” He asked. It didn’t look exactly like the ground beef at Walmart, but it appeared to be ground beef nonetheless. I smiled and thanked him, placing the package in my cart.

There are only a handful of affordable grocery stores on the island of Sint Maarten, and my options are to pay $170 a trip to shop in English or $102.75 to shop in French. I choose the language barrier and saving seventy bucks.

I spend a lot of time staring at labels, trying to make out what this can or that box holds. I’ve become pretty good at guessing, and I’ve even picked up some French in the process (although don’t ask me to try to pronounce it). Whenever I learn to speak French, I’ll have a head start. I will know the word for every single food item ever invented.

Some of the labels are easy. I babysat for a bilingual family, and their kids called milk lait at all times. The cow on the front also helps.

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Others aren’t so easy. I always thought fromage was just the word for “cheese,” but apparently it’s the word for every single dairy product on the planet.

This is not cheese. It’s yogurt. When I bought it, I needed yogurt, but it looked like it could be  cottage cheese or whipped cream. I decided that the risk was worth it. Ben hoped it would be whipped cream, so he was disappointed.

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This does not say fromage, but it IS cheese. Thank goodness this bag is see-through, or I would have been even more confused than I already was.

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The hardest products to find are the ones I don’t know the French word for, can’t see through the packaging, and don’t even recognize the packaging. It took me a few trips and some asking around to find baking soda. I was looking for the small orange box, but apparently Arm and Hammer doesn’t do French.

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I suspect the packaging issue is why I still can’t find baking powder. My friend Aqiyla went shopping with me yesterday, and she couldn’t find it either, although she speaks French. You don’t realize how powerful branding is until you’re dropped in the middle of unrecognizable foreign brands.

One thing that is not hard for me to locate, however, is Nutella! I think I have a Nutella radar built into my brain. I’m OK with becoming more European, if it involves chocolate for breakfast. Yes, please!

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I have encouraging moments, too. I’m getting to the point where I can read a lot of French words, even if I couldn’t use a single one in conversation. I can understand most French signage around town, and I can tell the difference between all-purpose flour and pastry flour. I can even scan package ingredients for allergens and be fairly confident that I won’t send anyone into anaphylactic shock.

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I never thought I’d say this, but there are days that I really miss Walmart. But at the same time, I’m glad I have the chance to make shopping a bilingual adventure. After all, I never quite know what I’m going to come home with…

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Two Girls Downtown

Sand and sun, tanzanite, johnny cakes and chapels. Downtown Philipsburg is as eclectic and international as you could ask. Philipsburg is the capitol of Dutch Sint Maarten, and its narrow streets hold a mixture of history and modern trends. Alyssa and I took an afternoon to explore this mix of past and present.

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Visitors to Sint Maarten often arrive by cruise ship. The first thing these tourists see is the Boardwalk, which is a sunny strip of sidewalk that borders Great Bay beach.

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Philipsburg was founded by a Dutch Navy captain named John Philips in 1763. Until the 1950’s, this area was relatively quiet, as far as tourism goes. At one time, it contained Sint Maarten’s only port, and saw just a handful of large boats each year. Later, as the island’s tourist industry expanded after World War II, bigger piers were built to accommodate cruise ships. It became one of the Caribbean’s busiest ports, and today thousands of vacationers stream off the gangways each week.

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The Saint Martin of Tours Catholic Church is located on the Boardwalk. The St. Martin of Tours Parish is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year! The church was named after the island’s own namesake, a 4th-century bishop whose feast day is November 11. When Christopher Columbus “discovered” Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, he named the island in honor of Saint Martin’s feat day. Naturally, the island’s  first Catholic church was also named after this saint.

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The Boardwalk holds many lovely surprises, like the reggae band we found and the little open-air restaurant where we stopped for icees.

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Iced drinks are the perfect refreshment on a warm February day in the tropics.

 

 

For many, the Sint Maarten experience stops here, on the edge of the aquamarine bay with a beach chair and a bottle of Heineken. But there’s so much more to downtown than just the boardwalk! Take a quick stroll down any one of the alleys leading to Front Street, and you’ll enter a whole new layer of the tourism district.

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Front Street is a wonderful place to shop if you’re not into paying sales tax and don’t mind dropping a good bit of cash of fancy goods. It’s also a good place to get a snack from local street cart vendors.

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Apparently, it’s also the perfect street for walking your pet iguana.

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The man who photobombed this picture was a pretty good salesperson. He caught our attention by jumping into this shot, and then managed to convince us to sample his wares. The face cream was nice, but neither of us were willing to pay $120 for it!

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The Sint Maarten courthouse is the most recognizable building on the island. It’s even featured on the country’s flag. It was built in 1793 and still serves as the courthouse.

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Front street is also home to a beautiful Methodist church. We stopped to take a look inside. This building was the first Methodist church on Sint Maarten. It was built in 1851, about century after the Methodist denomination was introduced to the West Indies by Nathaniel Green.

Beyond Front Street is (you guessed it) Back Street. There are many paths to Back Street, but my favorite is Old Street.

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Old Street isn’t really that much different from the rest of downtown, but it does have a certain charm about it. Maybe it’s the 50’s-era car permanently parked in the middle of the walkway, maybe it’s the big blue castle at the end of the street.

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My personal favorite place on Old Street is the art gallery. The family who owns it came here recently from Holland. The wife creates beautiful and unique art for her gallery and teaches art classes on the weekends. Her husband has a windsurf business at Le Galion Bay. His most recent work of art, he told me, is a crayon drawing of Winnie-The-Pooh.

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Back Street is for the locals. The prices here are significantly lower than those on Front Street, and you can find anything from Nike shoes to a washing machine in the stores. The look of Back Street is unique– huge stores sell appliances, old Dutch homes buzz with modern life, and local art covers the walls.

Cannegieter Street, or Third Street, as some people call it, comes next. Every day that a cruise ship docks at the port, Philipsburg Market is open. Dozens of vendors sell their goods along both sides of the road. Shoppers can buy all kinds of islandy things here. The crocheted cover-ups are my favorite.

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Pondfill Road comes last. This street is part of the main road that travels the perimeter of the island. Pondfill also runs along the Salt Pond, where slaves used to harvest salt for their masters. Salt slavery on Sint Maarten began in the 17th century. In 1848, slavery was abolished on the French side of the island, and subsequently Dutch slaves began to escape across the border for their freedom. Because of this, Dutch slave masters released their slaves and began to pay them wages for their work in 1848, although it would be 15 years before emancipation was officially legislated. There is now a monument to the salt slaves in the center of the round-a-bout on Pondfill Road. I took the picture below on Sint Maarten’s Day, when paraders marched down Pondfill dressed as salt pickers.

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As you can see, downtown Philipsburg is more than a place to tan or shop. It is the center of Sint Maarten’s history. There is so much to do and see here, but you have to go beyond the tourist district to see it all! Wherever you are, get out and go exploring. Happy adventures!

 

Some photos courtesy of Alyssa Fry. Visit her blog at ColorMeYellow.net